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Ethics reform, 'the Oregon way

If it's good enough for us, it's fine for Washington, D.C.

The Daily Astorian

It faces a long uphill battle, but the Oregon model would mean substantial ethics reform in Congress. Oregon Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Greg Walden have introduced the Ethics Reform Act of 2006 based on their experiences in the Oregon House years ago.

When an ethics issue arises, House members who are in the pool are drafted to sit on a review committee. It is an onerous duty with absolutely no political upside. The Oregon model would create an independent commission of 11 former members of Congress, five appointed by the Speaker and five by the Minority Leader. The 11th would be selected by the initial 10 commissioners.

As with the Congressional Budget Office, the commission would have an executive director appointed for a 7-year term. The director would be eligible for only one reappointment.

It is important to realize that only a handful of the 435 members ever get involved with charges of ethical misconduct. But when scandals do occur, they taint every member. Recent revelations charging widespread influence peddling by some lobbyists and some officials have left the House and Senate embarrassed and abused.

When this happens, the current system stalls. The majority party wants the issue to go away. The minority party is in no hurry to resolve issues that would erase the embarrassment for the majority party members facing re-election.

Walden readily admits this solution faces the tough task of overcoming the House's sense of policing its own, and has caused some members of his party to wonder why he's partnering with a Democrat in this venture.

"Forcing this discussion is important," he said. "It lets people confront the issues and puts this kind of solution in the mix."

It's a solution with a proven track record in Oregon that could serve this nation well in Washington.